Downhill & Snowboard

Just Add Powder:

Minnesota Has All the Right Ingredients for Downhill Skiers, Snowboarders

Whether you’re on one board or two skis, a beginner or a seasoned pro, your goal once you get off the chairlift is the same – take advantage of the snow, enjoy the fresh air, and capture that exhilirating feeling of flying down the slopes.

In Minnesota, skiers and snowboarders can capture that feeling from November through March (weather permitting) at 15 downhill areas throughout the state.

Plenty of snow, quality equipment, exceptional customer service (we are, after all, notorious for our “Minnesota nice”), diverse terrain and cozy lodging are key elements of Minnesota’s ski and snowboard scene. There’s a little something for everyone, from Grandma on down to the tiny tots.

Here’s hoping you find some zoom on the groom — maybe with a little schuss-boom — during the 2005-06 season.

Catch some serious air at Giants Ridge Golf and Ski Resort, located in Biwabik, on their 120-foot Big Air, a gapdrop 30-foot rail, a fun box, two 30-foot booters, a 60-foot table and an 80-foot Big Air, and a half-pipe that’s over 300 feet long. Giants Ridge also has 34 tree-lined runs and more than 60 kilometers of cross-country ski trails. Stay right at the edge of the action at The Lodge at Giants Ridge or The Villas at Giants Ridge. The Lodge has an indoor pool, a spa, and on-site dining; The Villas feature luxury condos and cabins overlooking Wynne Lake.

If you’re ready to fly, make sure to check out Spirit Mountain in Duluth for an awesome terrain park. The “Big Air Terrain Park” features two full-size half-pipes (with 9 to 11-foot walls) and a recently added kiddie terrain garden, “Port Gitchi Gummi.” Views of Lake Superior are absolutely magnificent and there is a variety of lodging available on-site and in Duluth. Skiers of all skill levels will enjoy the terrain (including a 700-foot vertical drop for thrill-chasers). There are 24 runs and five chairlifts.

Lutsen Mountains in Lutsen, nicknamed the “Vail of the Midwest,” has the most ski acreage in the state, with 90 runs and 22 kilometers of cross-country skiing.
Lutsen is always changing with the times, and this year they remodeled the historic gondola base chalet, renovating and installing three fireplaces to “cozy things up” after a day on the slopes, says Jim Vick, Lutsen Mountains marketing director. A new chalet at the summit of Moose Mountain is three times larger than the existing Mountain Top Deli, with a giant outdoor deck that overlooks the slopes and Lake Superior.
Three new tree runs were also added to Moose Mountain this season, Vick says.

Lutsen Mountains is in the first phase of a long-term expansion plan, complete with additional lodging options, a pedestrian village at the base of Eagle Mountain (where Papa Charlie’s is located), a high speed chairlift, expanding the trail system to more than 100 runs, and adding an outdoor adventure center with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating. The Lutsen owners hope to have the transformation complete within the next four years.

People of all ages are discovering riding, and there are two impressive terrain parks at Buena Vista Ski Area near Bemidji — one for kids, the other for adults. In addition to excellent downhill skiing and snowboarding, there are 25 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, a fun tubing park and charming sleigh rides available.

Ski Gull, located in Nisswa, is a family-friendly ski and snowboarding destination. The lift tickets are extremely affordable, the Bunny Hill ends near the chalet (so Mom and Dad can watch the little ones from the warmth of the indoors) and there are many lessons, clubs, teams, clinics and programs available.

An expanded terrain park at Andes Tower Hills in Kensington, near Alexandria, is a draw for snowboarders from across the state. This season they’re adding three rails to their playground for more freestyle hits and tricks.

The atmosphere at Andes Tower Hills is family-friendly, the passes are reasonably-priced and the runs are challenging.

Powder Ridge Winter Recreation Area in Kimball, near St. Cloud, has expanded their terrain park this season. The larger feature terrain park has been widened by 25 percent to create room for more features and jumps, says Powder Ridge owner Jerry Wahlin. The “KowaBunga Terrain Park,” with smaller features, will more than double in size this season. A snowboarding club called PR Kids was introduced last year to teach young kids how to ride and use the terrain, Wahlin says, adding that it was well received.

Afton Alps, east of St. Paul, has 45 runs, 18 chairlifts and is adding 200 new rental snowboards and 750 new rental skis to their supply this year. Beginners will love the three Wonder Carpets — “moving sidewalk” conveyor belt lifts — that take the place of a sometimes-complicated tow rope or chairlift, and experienced snow bunnies will enjoy the largest demo center in the Twin Cities.

Snow tubing is available at Afton Alps from Thursdays through Sundays. They also offer a women-specific college (with classes and clinics) that has been growing in popularity.

“And we have an excellent off-site lodging facility now for retreats and groups,” says Afton Alps spokesperson Tom Athmann, adding that Afton Alps has partnered with the YMCA.

Buck Hill in Burnsville also caters to snowboarders with freestyle terrain and a “guaranteed to learn the basics or your money back” Ski and Snowboard School. They have added a new groomer and half-pipe groomer, and will be using renewable wind energy during the entire season.

Hyland Ski and Snowboard Area in Bloomington (just minutes from the Mall of America) features terrain from easy to difficult. There are many hotels and accommodations near the area, and guests can take the Hiawatha Line light rail to restaurants and nightlife in neighboring Minneapolis.

Family-owned and operated since 1972, Wild Mountain in Taylors Falls, located an hour north of the Twin Cities, is usually one of the first ski areas to open in the state. They have a variety of terrain, 25 runs, some of the biggest bumps in the region, and an impressive Super Pipe and terrain park. This season they are adding Wild Chutes Snow Tubing for more family fun.

Coffee Mill Ski Area in Wabasha has the longest vertical drop south of Duluth, providing a spectacular view of the Mississippi River Valley. The prices are reasonable, the runs are varied, and the slopes are never too crowded. Coffee Mill also offers coulee skiing with a unique bowl arrangement. They have partnered with the Anderson House Hotel (established in 1856) to offer combination lodge/lift ticket packages.

Welch Village Ski and Snowboard Area, between Red Wing and Cannon Falls, features 50 runs, wide lanes, expansive open spaces and a terrain park designed by Snow Tools, the company that designed the terrain at the X-Games. They offer a good variety of easy greens and challenging black diamond runs.

Located in the scenic Minnesota River Valley one mile south of Mankato, Mount Kato is a winter paradise with 19 runs, a “try before you buy demo center,” full-service rental, a certified ski school for all ages and abilities, and snow tubing.

Steeplechase Ski and Snowboard Area in Mazeppa, 13 miles north of Rochester, is one of the newest ski areas in the United States. There are 19 trails and slopes, five lifts, a variety of freestyle terrain and snow tubing hills.